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How does one become a polyglot?

Updated: Jun 21, 2023

Happy lunes everyone!

Last week we sat down with Mr Marios Koutsakis, head of Modern Languages at Colfe's School. We discussed many things with him, chief amongst them the process of learning languages itself.

Do you feel like reading more about it? Here is the interview.

We offer reading exercises based on our interviews with MFL experts. If you feel like practicing your Spanish, give it a go! Alternatively, please find the exercises below, attached. Off we go!

Mr Marios Koutsakis is a seasoned linguist who speaks Greek, English, Spanish, French and German, as well as Italian. He has also lived, studied and taught in several European countries. After working as a lecturer in Modern Greek at Maastricht University (2003-2005), he studied for his MA in Germany and his PGCE in England. He has been the Head of Modern Languages at Colfe's School since 2008.

You were born in Greece, but you have lived in Germany, the Netherlands and England. What brought you to these countries?

To a certain degree, it was circumstance that made me live in different countries. My parents lived and worked in Germany, so I spent time there when I was little. We returned to Greece when I was in the middle of primary school and I finished my studies there. I returned to Germany for my university studies in the city of Aachen (Aachen in English). This wonderful place is located on the border between Germany and the Netherlands, so going to Maastricht was simply a bus ride. Settling in England was not in the original plan, but I met my British partner in Germany and we decided to move to London for a while. This then became the normality.

You are a polyglot, do you think there are any tricks, or do you have any tips, for people who want to learn several languages?

Many people ask me this question. I remember once I was talking to an American in a coffee shop in San Francisco about this. He wanted to know what was the fastest way to learn a language. The truth is that there is no quick fix. You may need to have some language skills, especially a good ear for different sounds, but the rest is hard work and exposure. Take every opportunity you get to practise the language and, if you have the means, spend some time abroad.

You have experience as a teacher in both secondary and university education, what differences do you find between the two?

You don't need to entertain university students to keep them curious about the subject they are studying.

You have been head of modern languages at your school for fifteen years, how has language teaching changed in that time?

Education has certainly become more technology-driven and the opportunities offered by the many educational websites make many aspects of the teaching and learning experience easier, more accessible and more entertaining.

How did your institute adapt to the pandemic and have changes continued?

Our school was quick to make the transition to online learning and managed to provide training and equipment to both students and teachers quickly and effectively. Not many classes were lost during the pandemic and a direct consequence was that we decided to introduce laptops in our classrooms.

For which section of the GCSE and A Levels exams do you think students are least prepared and why?

Unfortunately, it is the oral exam that is the most difficult, as there is never enough time to practise. I say "unfortunately" because this skill is by far the most important. Everyone wants to learn a language so that they can mainly speak it, right?

Can you think of a book or movie that Spanish learners can fall in love with?

There are so many options to choose from! My favourite Spanish film would be Pedro Almodóvar's All About My Mother, as it explores complex family structures and identities at a time when this was not considered "woke". One book I adored was One Hundred Years of Solitude, a wonderful depiction of the horrors and blessings of living in South America.

On Polygloty - Marios Koutsakis (Reading Exercise)
Download DOCX • 121KB

On Polygloty - Marios Koutsakis (Marking Scheme)
Download DOCX • 121KB


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